Recently while I was visiting with the Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Massachusetts, I took a break from getting my fitness on for a short field trip to The Mount, the former estate of Edith Wharton.
Edith was an unusual person right from the start; born "Pussy" Jones into the American Aristocracy in 1862, and went on to be an accomplished novelist, essayist, travel writer and interior designer. She and her family lived in New York City and summered in Rhode Island. They also traveled back and forth to Europe many times so that Edith became fluent in French, German and Italian. It is said that her family was so wealthy that the term "Keeping up with the Joneses" was coined after them.
Considered a semi-spinster at age 23, Edith consented to marry Edward Robbins Wharton, who was 12 years her senior. Born into a Boston Society family, he was a keen sportsman and shared her love of travel. The couple built a home in Rhode Island called Land's End. Reportedly so ugly, she set about remodelling the home, the efforts documented in her first published book, The Decorating of Houses, in 1897.
By 1902, the Wharton's had moved on to the new artist enclave of Lenox, Mass. and Edith, with the proceeds from her best selling book and also an inheritance from an unknown uncle, was able to design and build The Mount and its gardens according to her own design principles of order, scale and harmony.
The main house was inspired by the 17th Century English Belton House. Three stories on the garden side opens out to a large, raised, stone terrace that overlooks the 112 acre estate. The exterior of the house is white stucco, set off by dark green shutters. Looking closely, you will see that some of the windows are dummies, installed simply to create symmetry and balance for the entire facade.
There is also a Georgian gate house and stables. Edith designed the gardens at the Mount as well, which include a sunken Italian garden, a formal French flower garden, and a rock garden. Her niece, Beatrice Jones Ferrand, designed the sweeping drive as well as the kitchen garden.
While living at The Mount, Edith wrote two of her most famous novels; The House of Mirth, and Ethan Frome. After publishing The Decorating of Houses at age 35, Edith published every year for the next 40.
By 1911, Teddy's severe depression led to the Wharton's marriage break-down after 28 years, and Edith sold The Mount and moved permanently to France. It was soon after her emigration to Paris that she published her Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Age of Innocence.
The Mount has been a boarding school for girls and also the home of Shakespeare and Company. It now has been restyled into a museum dedicated to Edith Wharton. The estate is also available for event rentals and also book reading events. And because of excessive paranormal activity, The Mount also offers "ghost tours" in the summer and fall.
The Mount: 2704 Plunkett Street
Lenox, Massachusetts 01240